How do aging adults stay connected to the world when cognitive functions are diminishing, when technology is complex and intimidating, when family and friends are not close-by? How does AI and robotics help us maintain a healthy level of mental and social activity and reduce loneliness – which 50 per cent of older adults list as their main concern?
These are the questions that Intuition Robotics wants to answer with ElliQ: an emotionally intelligent robotic companion that helps us stay connected with loved ones, and to keep thinking and learning as we age. The team at Fuseproject worked with Intuition Robotics to define an entirely new category of robot and interactions, both physically and interactively.
There are infinite possibilities as to how we can define the interactions with this type of machine learning, and through our research, we were able to define the five most needed/desired interaction points for this age group. These categories became the defining guidelines for how we developed the ElliQ design across all disciplines:
Coach – The design utilizes goal-based AI to learn the older adult’s personal goals, like getting up more often, connecting with family, or learning more on a particular topic. It then proactively nudges them activities toward these targets in a personalized manner.
Connector – The screen provides an easy way to video chat with family and friends and view the latest family photos, but the device is also able to send and receive text messages and calls, or connect to social messaging.
Engager – The home companion can proactively suggest to play music, share the news, find and play videos, or read audiobooks.
Companion – The structural ‘character’ element can use speech, lighting, sound, images and movement to subtly convey emotion, showing understanding and support.
Lookout – The unit has a series of monitoring features built in that can be turned on if desired, including the ability for a caregiver to check-in with the device through social media.
Designing the brand in tandem with the product, we utilized a few key characteristics in both elements: simple geometries, minimalist purity, and sophistication. Given this, we created a simplified, custom drawn logo. The distinct dot in the middle of the ‘E’ becomes a connection point – a metaphor for how ElliQ exists in our lives, as an object that connects us with the world. This connecting dot becomes the basis for a branded pattern as well, which exists not only in ElliQ branded material, but also on the product as the speaker perforations. The brand color palette provides a warm juxtaposition to the clean colors of the product itself, with oranges and peaches to provide a friendly, less serious accent.
The name ElliQ has multiple meanings; upfront, it comes across as a classic name, with the ‘Q’ paying homage to names of the mid-1900s. More importantly, the name needed to be entirely distinct since the product is voice activated – when the user says the name out loud, the robot should not be able to confuse it with other words. ElliQ accomplishes just that – it flows easily off the tongue, feels familiar, but is entirely unique in its pronunciation. The name is also a subtle gesture for the demographic this robot is designed for – since ‘Elli’ is the Norse Goddess of Old Age.
Unlike our current perceptions of robots as humanoids, the ElliQ design is more akin to a beautiful tabletop object, with a screen and ‘companion’ structure – a unique form factor designed specifically to foster comfort and familiarity and askew the typical robot vernacular. By leaving a screen off of the character itself, our aim is to elegantly balance the fine line between an object and a robot, with subtle animations to bring it to life in a relatable (and lovable) manner.
The form needed to feel elegant, something an older adult would have in their home, without taking up too much space or looking like a toy. The base hides sensors and microphones to maximize the utilization of the AI without seeming too gadget-like, and the character is comprised of an anodized aluminum base and textured plastic head with elegant curvature and organic colors – a composition that wants to be a beautiful tabletop object rather than a robot. A speaker built into the base carries a tiled ElliQ logo pattern, adding depth in order to balance the weight of the companion entity’s movement.
The ElliQ design was one of the most intricate digital exercises in our studio to date, including not only UI/UX for the on-screen functionality, but also motion, sound, and lighting design. With the screen and companion distinct from each other, we were able to include a wide range of utilizations and expressions. The companion structure uses diffused LED lighting to display subtle emotional expressions, with a wide range of motion for the ‘head’ to give it personification in an accessible and friendly manner. The screen works on the cradle display, in the user’s hand, or can stand on its own with an attached easel, showing video or other media content. Keeping these elements separate allows for broadened modular use, without breaking the emotional bond built over time with the companion. This is particularly helpful for users with hearing impairments, as they can read subtitles on-screen without ElliQ breaking character.
The app and on-screen UI are also meant to be intuitive, and unique for an elderly audience. Instigating conversation and activities, the UI learns and adapts to its user in order to maximize engagement. Based on pre-set goals, ElliQ may prompt you to call a friend or relative, read or watch a TED talk, or even go for a walk if the weather is nice. Unlike traditional interfaces, ElliQ does the work for you – providing you the tools to engage without any technological barrier. It can even prompt you and your caregiver to fill out a survey of interests and goals, making its interaction points even more personalized to you.